Detect wetness in wood constructions

A valuable building material needs special control

Timber construction is in vogue. Within just a few years, timber construction has developed into a genuine alternative to "mainstream solid buildings" across all construction projects. Whether daycare centers, residential buildings, hotels or offices: More and more builders are opting for the sustainable building style. But the sustainable building material also offers risks. In order to prevent potential sources of mold from developing in the first place, a Berlin-based sensor manufacturer is now offering a tailor-made solution that can detect wetness in timber construction at an early stage and in good time.

Wood becomes the standard

That timber construction is more than just hype is shown by the bare figures: Across Germany, the proportion of houses with a predominantly timber construction increased to 17.6% of all building permits issued in 2017. In Baden-Württemberg in particular, the timber quota is high: around one in three construction projects is realized with the natural building material. What began primarily in residential construction now also extends significantly to so-called "non-residential construction": building types such as kindergartens and recreational homes, but also commercial buildings, were already realized with wood at around 20% in 2016. And the trend is rising.

A valuable building material needs special protection

However, the attractiveness and the associated high demand are currently leading to an intensification of the shortage of materials, which in post-Corona times also affects other building materials, but is particularly noticeable in the case of wood as a raw material. What is clear even without world market demand is that wood is valuable. And for this reason, wooden buildings require special protection.

Indeed, in addition to the many advantages (longevity, sustainability, raw material awareness, flexibility, aesthetics), there are also potential risks to be evaluated. The biggest problem for wood: water - and associated with it: Mold.

The risks

According to expert assessment ten to 20 percent of all new buildings constructed using the modern lightweight wood construction method are infested with mold - and usually without the occupants noticing. Particularly affected: Timber frame buildings in the prefabricated sector, which have to contend with water damage particularly frequently. The often undetected moisture spreads through the walls over a longer period of time.

The most common causes of damage: Broken pipes, faulty waterproofing, defective vapor barrier connections that lead to condensation damage. The domino effect, which we also know from classic flat roof insulation, plays out in the same way in wood construction. The lines and pipes in prefabricated construction run in prefabricated ducts in wall cavities. Damage that occurs here is overlooked over a long period of time - the insulation material first soaks up the escaping water before it becomes visible on the wall sheathing.

As soon as water damage forms here, the door is literally opened to water. The result: The water seeks its way uncontrollably and leads, for example, plasterboard for extensive mold. As soon as OSB and chipboards are soaked, there is no turning back. Drying is not possible here; only replacement and the associated cost-intensive deconstruction come into question.

If, after such water damage, only statically relevant solid wood components remain standing, but a large proportion of the other wooden elements have to be replaced, all the advantages of the timber construction method evaporate.

Why wetness is a particular hazard for wood

As a rule, insulation materials are installed in the wall structures of a wooden house. When these become saturated with water, they are difficult to dry. One of the reasons: The airtight construction. However, this so-called airtightness layer also ensures that the walls dry relatively poorly.

Indeed, in addition to the many advantages (longevity, sustainability, raw material awareness, flexibility, aesthetics), there are also potential risks to be evaluated. The biggest problem for wood: water - and associated with it: Mold.

The time factor: Act in good time!

The fundamental problem with water damage in timber construction is timing. When the damage is visible, it is simply already too late. The earlier countermeasures such as local drying can be taken, the greater the chance of avoiding extensive deconstruction measures. But how do you detect wetness in the wood component if it is not visible from the outside and accidental openings are counterproductive?

How to make your wooden construction smart

The solution is closer than you think. In our normal lives, sensors for constant monitoring and damage prevention have long since become established and are an integral part of our digital daily lives. Sensors in the home detect smoke development and warn us with acoustic signals as soon as danger is imminent. Sensors in the wristwatch measure the heartbeat and check whether atrial fibrillation episodes are detected. Sensors on flat roofs in solid construction detect wetness in their environment and can be checked with pinpoint accuracy by the roofer.

Exactly this technology is now also available for timber construction. The company HUM-ID offers with its novel sensors KD1 a cost-effective way to detect wetness in wooden structures. While the WD1 sensor was mainly used in classic warm roofs, the new KD1 equipped with a special conductive fleece offers exactly the wetness sensitivity that wooden structures need.

"Invisible" sensors in the precast element

There are different ways to protect new wooden buildings against undetected moisture. Either the sensors are integrated directly at the construction site, or the prefabricated components are already equipped with the intelligent chips. Rubner Holzbau proceeds in exactly the same way. The pioneer in timber construction already equips its timber components with the HUM-ID sensors ex works. The elements can then later be assigned to a building project by software and checked piece by piece for wetness at any time with a handheld reader.

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